Schools out for summer. Schools out forever. Well, maybe not for everyone, and maybe not forever, but certainly until September. June is here, and so if you haven’t already, break out them sandals, tanks tops and sunscreen, frisbees, thin socks summer travel plans. With the spirit of wanderlust in the air, we bring you a guest blog entry from our friend Maire Kennedy from Intrepid Travel, as she recounts her culinary exploration of a recent trip in Thailand, testing out a Timbuk2 Wingman while she was there.
“I’m not a very outdoorsy person – in fact, ‘outsidesy’ is a much better descriptor for my taste in hobbies. I’m not a mountain climber (although I do a pretty good scramble up on my kitchen counters to reach the top shelf of the cabinets), and kayaking makes me nervous because I’m pretty sure I would flip over and be stuck underneath the ocean (and not in a fun The Little Mermaid “part of your world!” sort of way).
However, there is a hobby of mine that stops my adventurous friends in their tracks: Street Fooding. My iron stomach, intense curiosity, and general love of snacks, I eat a lot of street food. As a tour guide for Intrepid Travel, it’s part of my job to show the paths less travelled and uncover how the locals do it. And on a recent trip to Thailand, we saw that the locals do street food; REALLY well.
Of course there was some of the classics – I’ve had pad thai hundreds of times. BUT I’d never had it freshly cooked in front of me underneath a night sky filled with hundreds of floating lanterns.
During the lantern festival in Sukothai, the temple complex becomes a street fair of epic proportions – there are dances, full theatrical performances, hundreds of lanterns either being set afloat into the sky or pushed floating along the lake, and food stalls and carts selling everything from bags of sliced fresh fruit to noodles, and carts with one of my very favorite things – meats on sticks.
Incredibly hot sausages – hot because they were off the flame, hot because of the tiny chilies embedded throughout – red flecks sticking out like embers among the meat and chopped rice noodles.
Pork satay thrown on the grill in front of you, and staying on the grill while you motion how many swashes of sauce you’d like it to be insulated with while it cooks. All washed down with fresh coconut juice, and you can fish out the bits of coconut jelly to chew on while your mouth cools down, and your eyes look for the next snack.
At a temple in Phitsanulok, there was a stall that was selling a perfect 2-bite snack, Mieng Kham: a betel tree leaf wrapped around a mix of shallot, ginger, shrimp, candied peanut and lemongrass. Not only could you buy a bag of three, you could buy a pack of the ingredients wrapped mise-en-place – the Thai equivalent of buying that pre-made pizza dough at Trader Joe’s.
In Bangkok, we found these tiny crispy crepes prepared by a husband & wife at their cart. You could choose candied carrot & sesame filling, or minced ginger-beef & scallion. We had both, alternating the sweet and savory as we wandered down to the river.
Then, there’s the staples: An endless variety of potato chips (Lobster Hot Plate! Sweet Holy Basil!), the Thai iced coffees that are a perfect triumvirate of the power of cold, sweet, and strong….
There was the beautiful multi-course Khantoke dinner served at our homestay in Northern Thailand. We ate fried chicken and pork curry, crunched on rice cakes while local kids did a music and dance recital. We took a traditional thai cooking class in Chiang Mai, in the Northern part of Thailand, (and was immodestly impressed with the results), and even tried to take it home with us by buying packets of spices and bags of nuclear-grade tiny chilies to stuff into my Wingman bag in an attempt to recreate back in the US…
When I told people that I was going to Thailand, they would light up. “Oh, you’ll love it! You have to go to this one restaurant by Wat Po…you have to go down south to the beaches… you have to go to the old Chinatown in Bangkok”. And like all the other well-meaning recommendations I’ve received in my life, some of it I followed, some of it I didn’t. But I will give you one simple recommendation for Thailand, one that I know you can follow: You have to go. You HAVE to go. You have to GO.”